Throughout the indigenous world there is a saying — “we belong to the land”. It is a multi-faceted expression with many interpretations, one of them being that as indigenous people our connection to place, traditional homelands that is, is a part of who we are at the very core of our identity.
This is one of the reasons why people will passionately defend territorial boundaries against development, resource extraction and exploration.
We belong to the land, we have a duty to care for the land and in turn the land will continue to care for us with provisions such as clean water, food, shelter, and medicine.
For the last 238 years, Six Nations along the Grand has been the land where we all belong.
In 1779, George Washington ordered a military campaign also known as the Sullivan Campaign or Sullivan-Clinton Genocide, that destroyed 40 Haudenosaunee villages and everything owned by the people in those territories.
The result was the exodus of 5000 Haudenosaunee people from the traditional homelands and into what is now called Canada.
Imagine for a moment, you are there. Maybe you’re a mom of four and your home and belongings and food storage and the homes, belongings and food storage of absolutely everyone you know – has been turned to ash.
Historians have documented that our cornfields surrounding our villages were 9 square miles. All of it, burned. The entire Haudenosaunee economy was destroyed.
You flee. Landing eventually along the lake at Fort Niagara along with 5000 other people – some you may know but most likely you are surrounded by strangers and everyone is impoverished.
Our people would stay at Fort Niagara as refugees in encampments surrounding the Fort, sometimes for years, until eventually moving to more permanent settlements around the Great Lakes. Some moving on to what is now called Tyendinaga, Kahnawake and Akwesasne — and several to Grand River.
Finally, a place they could put down roots and build a home that is safe from invasion, where their children could grow and play safe from the fear of military invasion. The land was a promised gift, set aside for those ancestors and their descendants — forever.
What a feeling of hope that must have been for so many mothers and fathers who settled along the Grand. What a time of healing they had on their hands, to overcome an entire genocide and re-build communities — repairing what they lost in whatever ways they could.
That is the ancestry for so many of us from Six Nations. It is a story of our grandfathers and grandmothers that is so integral to who we are because it describes our beginnings of where we belong.
Our grandmothers and grandfathers were forcibly removed from the land where they belonged in the past, and were transplanted in a new home, new lands, new belonging. Here at Grand River. And while they were yet wounded, they set down roots, and began to grow their lineages again. For us — the faces yet to come. We belong to this land, and we belong to our ancestors.
No one can redefine those two things. They are. It’s truth.
And yet, the HCCC and HDI appear again with their misinterpretations of history and tradition — this time speaking shadows into court documents in an attempt to rephrase cultural identifiers and reframe historical fact to fit their preferred narrative.
Only certain people belong? The land belongs to the HCCC?
No one can change history, not even titleholders. No one can rewrite the Haldimand Proclamation and all of the historical documents that support the journey taken by our ancestors who settled here.
No one can rewrite who belongs to the land by redefining who belongs to the Confederacy. We all belong to the Confederacy. We promote it every day on orange flags and t-shirts: Every Child Matters. Not just some.
And we, the people of Six Nations, for those ancestors who settled here so long ago, we are now those coming faces yet unborn — we were the children that mattered.
No court, no entity, no corporation, no religious collective can change a persons ancestry or reframe it how they would prefer it be written.
We’ve said it before, and will say it again and again — the old folks talked about Six Nations being a warriors settlement. The land was given to the Mohawks and such others. Not to the HCCC and not only for the matrilineal descendants of the Haudenosaunee as defined by Colin Martin, Aaron Detlor, Brian Doolittle, Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, 2438543 Ontario Inc. or anyone else who comes around with a claim.
Disinheriting people who belong to the land by trying to redefine who is a Haudenosaunee is colonial violence.
Do you know what else happened in 1779? The same year as the Sullivan Campaign, the genocide. The Haldimand lands were pledged to the Mohawk before the Proclamation of 1784. A promise was made to the people of the ancient villages of Canojaharie, Tikondarago and Aughugo. Those of us who have grandfathers and grandmothers that are from the Mohawk Nation have these stories in our teachings. Those agreements and stories have been passed down through the generations and are not forgotten. They can’t be side-stepped in an Ontario Court and ignored. They are historical fact, not a Mohawk ego-trip.
Here is the promise – aka the Haldimand Pledge of 1779.
“By His Excellency General Haldimand, Esq., Captain General and Commander-in-Chief of the Province of Quebec, and upon the frontiers of Quebec, etc.
Some of the Mohawks of the Villages of Canojaharie, Tikondarago, and Aughugo, whose settlements than had been on account of their steady attachment to the King’s service and the interests of Government ruined by the rebels; having informed me that my predecessor, Sir Guy Carleton, was pleased to promise, as soon as the present troubles were at an end, the same should be restored at the expense of the Government, to the state they were in before the wars broke out, and said promise appearing to me just, I do hereby ratify the same and assure them the said promise, so far as in me lies, shall be faithfully executed, as soon as that happy time comes.
GIVEN UNDER MY HAND AND SEAL at Quebec the 7th day of April, 1779. FRED HALDIMAND”